It was 1985. I was where I shouldn’t have been, doing things I wasn’t legally old enough to do when a woman I barely knew made a proposition to me.
“I’m moving to Richmond, Virginia next week to surprise my boyfriend Marty. I’m gonna take the bus and find a little place to stay. You should come with me!!” She yelled to me from behind the bar as I ordered my drink.
“Sounds great!!” I said, raising my drink as if to toast her and this adventure I’d just agreed to.
I slammed it back, ordered another and bounced away with a zip in my step and a smirk on my face.
Joining my girlfriends on the dance floor I yelled “Hey, Guess What!?! I’m going to Virginia next week with the bartender. She’s gonna surprise her boyfriend by moving there! Pretty cool, right!?!” Their heads bobbing and weaving to the beat of the music. I got a “Whatever girl!” A “What!?!” and a “What could go wrong with that!?!”. We laughed, danced and drank the night away. I’d stumbled upon a way out.
3 semesters into community college and nearly 19, I’d overstayed my welcome as a crappy roommate and was back to sleeping on the couch at my dad’s apartment. My childhood bedroom set and knick knacks surrendered to the roommates waiting for my back rent that was never coming. I wasn’t digging my job selling newspaper subscriptions by phone. I wasn’t in a relationship that had survived more than a night or two. I stopped going to classes and doing my homework, failing out of that last semester by abject neglect. My relationship with my family wasn’t an impetus to stay. I was adrift. This invitation, a life raft.
I’d barely mentioned it to either of my parents until the night I was going to leave. I called my Mom. She gave her standard response to most things. “Oh ok Whitney. Be careful. I hope everything will be ok.” “Thanks Mom. Call you when I get there.” I stopped by my dad’s to pick up a few things before heading to the bus station. “I wish you wouldn’t go Whitney.” “Yeah – I’ll be fine. Got any cash? I only have $60 on me.” I said, dismissing his request. He obliged with $26, all he had. “Thanks Dad. Don’t worry. I’ll be fine. Call you when I get there and figure things out.”
The Greyhound station at 10:30 at night is a gritty place. The reality of what I’d said yes to was starting to come into focus. Kim talked to me about the rooming house she found us by going to the library and pulling up newspaper ads. I was mildly creeped out by the prospect, but we didn’t have enough money between us, or a credit card, to spring for a hotel room. Her excitement was enough to help me rally. The bus pulled away from the station. I watched as we passed through the streets of the town I’d called home my whole life and let go when we got on the expressway pointed East.
We hit Philadelphia at daybreak. I was taking it all in – the scenery outside the windows and inside this portal to somewhere new. Eyes wide, sleepy and uncomfortable but alive with curiosity and grateful for a fresh start.
“Next stop, Richmond, Virginia.” The driver called, in a sing-songy voice over the PA system.
That summer was filled with excitement, drama, fatigue, frustration, new friendships, lucky breaks and life lessons. Kim and Marty didn’t last 6 months. She headed back to Louisville and I stayed another 2 years, until I’d worn out my welcome by being a crappy roommate and accepting an invitation from a boy back home to be his girl. Another decision that would change my life, forever.